A Marathon Training Plan That’s Actually Easy to Maintain

Last month, I ran the Boston Marathon. It was my 29th marathon, and it was one of my best running experiences to date despite the fact that I ended up severely injuring my IT band. How is it possible that I could enjoy such a painful experience and still be motivated to run Chicago in October?

For me, it’s all about my training plan. Specifically, a training plan that I’ve honed over the years that incorporates one unconventional focus: Fun! Yes, marathon training can be fun if you go into it with the correct focus. From my experience, when something is fun, it’s that much easier to stick with it far past the actual race date.

But how in the world can you make training to run a 26.2 mile race a fun experience? How can you overcome challenges such as injury, fatigue, and burnout? No matter if you’re a novice runner training for your first marathon or an experienced marathoner training for your 100th, consider incorporating some of the following practices into your plan to ensure you’re fully enjoying your training plan…

Make Running a Social Affair

Running should always be a social activity whenever possible. When I schedule my training runs, I make sure to find at least one other person to run with. Doing so has many benefits:

  • Keeping my commitments. When I make a commitment to run with a friend, it’s much less likely that I’ll cancel that plan out of respect for my friend.
  • Integrate a safety buffer. When you’re setting off on a 20-miler on a hot, summer day, it’s best not to do so alone in case you run (pun intended!) into any unforeseen difficulties (heat exhaustion, dehydration, etc). Sometimes when you’re running long distances, you don’t fully recognize the effects of doing so on your body. Having someone alongside you ensures that another pair of eyes & ears can spot the signs of when it’s time to cut the run short.
  • Find intangible benefits. Ticking off the miles with my friends by my side allows me to strengthen my bonds with each of them and gives us a chance to catch up on what’s happening in each other’s lives in a healthy way.

Remember that Slow & Steady Wins the Race

Over the years, I’ve noticed one common trend that impacts the potential for training burn-out: The rate at which you increase your mileage. While it’s tempting to run freely, especially at the beginning of your training, that is one of the most crucial times for exhibiting a high degree of restraint. Most experts tout a “10% rule” and it’s one that I personally adhere to as well.

Each week, your mileage should only increase at a rate of 10% over the mileage you ran during the prior week. Yes, that means that if you ran 20 miles last week, this week you should only be running 22 total miles.  Even if you feel like you could run more.

Holding back now provides you with an opportunity to learn more about:

  • Your body’s natural cues. How are you feeling after each run, physically and mentally? Is your body trying to tell you something?
  • Hone your sense of starting out slowly. This is something you will also need to do on race day; it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
  • Toughen your mental tenacity. If you haven’t already, you’ll certainly learn the value of postponing gratification.

Flexibility is Key

When you set off on your marathon training journey, there will inevitably be bumps in the road along the way. Being able to stay flexible will help you successfully navigate these challenges in a way that also allows you to stick with your training. In nearly every training plan I’ve completed, there’s always been a bit of fireworks along the way: Illness, injury, job constraints, travel plans, etc.

Despite my best intentions, I’ve often had to change my training plan in order to incorporate these apparent speed bumps. I’ve cut long runs, shortened runs in the middle, and have added cross-training activities such as swimming, rowing, and cycling to help supplement training deficits.

My best advice for keeping flexibility at the forefront of your training plan includes:

  • Staying positive. No matter what the challenge you’re faced with, keeping a smile on your face and thinking in a positive manner is worth hundreds, if not millions, of miles. You can have your physical state shaken temporarily, but a positive mindset is a rock-hard entity that will keep you moving forward.
  • Being creative. Don’t be afraid to replace running with another activity if the situation deems it necessary!
  • Seeking support when needed. Ultimately, even though you’re the one running the race, you’re never alone throughout your training. Rely on the support of friends and family whenever you need an extra boost.

As you can see, there is a lot involved in training for a marathon, but if you put in the effort you need and stay organized, you can cross the finish line.  It worked for me and I know have the medal and memory to cherish.

So, have you ever trained for a marathon? What were your keys to success?


A Marathon Training Plan That’s Actually Easy to Maintain — 13 Comments

  1. So many people are running marathons these days (well, WAY more than when I was growing up. Back then no one ran marathons!) that I feel like every other day in the news is another story about some runner dying of dehydration or a heart attack or whatever while doing a marathon. It sounds like you spend a lot of time making sure that you’re paying attention to yourself and your body’s needs. Which is GREAT! WHen I work outside all day in 90F weather, I always stop for a minute and do a mental body check. Am I thirsty? Am I still sweating? Do I feel dizzy? It’s important! OUr body’s give us signals, but sometimes we’re so head-strong that we stop listening! So great job paying attention to yourself. ANd BTW, holy crap, 29 marathons?! Dude, that’s a ton! You’re an animal!

    • Your mental body check is key to maintaining a training plan and finishing your race–truly listening to your body can’t be stressed enough!!

      And yes…lucky number 29..haha! I loooove to run; I’m gearing up for Chicago in October! What types of races do you run?

    • Exactly! It’s the best for some and torture for others. The beauty of this “plan” is that it can translate to pretty much any athletic endeavor. I love that you like interval training–it’s an amazing way to maintain cardio fitness. Keep it up!

  2. 29th marathon? Good Lord! The idea of making it a social affair is the one advice that is dear to my heart. Preparing for the run is arduous work, but doing it with a friend, who is just as committed to doing it, is such a powerful strategy. I take my hat off to you for doing this with such passion; in spite of the obvious aches and pains that it causes. Good luck in Chicago.

  3. The social piece has kept me running for 19 years–it’s a great way to get “hooked!” And before you know it, you just may find yourself crossing the finish line of a marathon 😉

    The 10% tip is huge–the problem with ramping up too much too soon is the damage is cumulative. Sure, you’ll feel great at the beginning of your training plan but the effects of distance running in particular can take months to show. If you don’t take it easy in the beginning, you lose opportunity to build a very strong base.

    With all that said, it’s really hard to force myself to stop my run when I’m feeling great. I usually just remind myself that it means I’ll be that much stronger come race day.

  4. Salut to a fellow runner; I have run only six but Istarted late and one of these is Loch Ness – a marvel of a marathon. Well, more like a fell run of 42K, really.

    Agree with all your tips; at the most general level that is it. And, running a marathon is a head game (on top of being fit). Here is to many more marathons for us.

  5. I never had any desire to run a marathon, then ran 6 in just over 400 days (including a Goofy at Disney and similar-type event in Seabrook, Texas on trails).

    Congrats on Boston. You must fly! I heard it was incredibly hot.

    • Ooooh…I did my first Goofy this past January and I love every second of it!!!

      Yes, Boston was insane this year. If I hadn’t blown out my knee at mile 11, I’d surely have fallen over at some point from heat exhaustion. Luckily, the busted knee slowed me down enough that I still finished…albeit with significant pain but it was truly my stubbornness that got me across that finish line…hahaha!

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